Candidates must unleash the power of young voters in New York election

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Registering adolescents on the electoral roll (photo: Michael Appleton / Mayoral Photography Office)


Twenty-five million people under the age of 30 voted in the 2020 presidential election. This is the highest on record, both in gross numbers and as a percentage of eligible voters. As one of the largest constituents of voters in the country, politicians want and need as many “Gen Z” votes as they can get. So naturally, politicians ask themselves, where can we find youth?

On social media, of course.

Yet as New York’s 2021 election cycle draws to a close, local candidates are struggling to use social media to connect with this hard-hitting group of voters, who we know are voting at good rates. lower in local elections compared to national elections. As a 15-year-old future voter and native of New York, I have a few thoughts on how candidates should best use these communication tools.

According to Pew Research Center72% of Americans under 30 use some form of social media, making it the most important way to connect with young voters. It is also a useful tool for reaching a wider range of people. About half of Latin Americans and black Americans are notably on Instagram, according to the Pew study.

The ultimate end for all politicians is to get as many votes as possible. The way they allocate their resources determines their priorities. In the 2021 election cycle, New York City candidates spent more than $ 47 million on TV ads and an additional $ 27.3 million on all mailings, campaign materials and advertising. printed, according to the latest data from the City Campaign Funding Council.

While it’s more difficult to track spending on social media, if applicants invested a quarter of what they spent in traditional media on Instagram, Twitter, and Tiktok, they’d be much better off connecting with young people. voters *. While it can be complicated, it doesn’t have to be expensive at all. Duolingo, the popular language learning app, dominates TikTok (@duolingo) with its weird, wacky, low-budget content that doesn’t even reference its language learning app. And it works: this year alone they managed to increase their profits from 106%.

Throughout history, successful public figures have mastered the communication tools of their time. Benjamin Franklin distributed Thomas Paine’s Common Sense brochures to inspire support for the revolution. Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered his fireside conversations by radio. Dwight Eisenhower was the first presidential candidate to use TV campaign ads. And John F. Kennedy wowed Americans with his performance (and his use of stage makeup) in televised debates. In the modern age, politicians must learn to use social media.

In 2008, Barack Obama took to social media to reach the White House. Donald Trump was the first president to have his own personal Twitter account. (Although Obama had a Twitter account while he was running and during his tenure, it was carefully managed by his team.) Trump was his authentic, unfiltered self on Twitter and used the platform to win and lead a massive audience before being kicked out. off the platform due to the risk of further incitement to violence.

These days we see a lot of politicians on Twitter, some trying to copy Trump’s model while others use it much more carefully. The politician most widely recognized as being at the forefront of social media is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. AOC came out of nowhere to win their 2018 New York Congress seat and become the youngest member of Congress. His sagacity on social networks was instrumental in his rise. In fact, she’s been so successful at connecting with people through social media that she was asked to host a seminar on how to use Twitter for other members of Congress.

Whether she’s making pasta on Instagram Live, running a makeup tutorial on Facebook, responding to Ted Cruz on Twitter, or streaming a video game session live on Twitch, AOC is always on the lookout for new ways to break the fourth wall. and connect with people on Social Media. Of course, she doesn’t make pasta in front of the world just because she has a killer recipe she wants to share. She shares her ideas while building a two-part story combining visuals (cooking, games, etc.) and her voice (politics, big ideas, opinions). She’s real and human, breaking down the barrier of embarrassment that often arises when people talk to politicians.

His approach is similar to TikToker Dylan Lemay (@dylanlemay). Lemay gained millions of followers on TikTok while working in an ice cream shop. While his videos show him baking ice cream and decorating cakes, his voiceovers tell stories about what he did that day with his friends and his plans for later. This is often referred to as “multi-narrative storytelling,” and it’s the same approach that AOC uses in its social media content to discuss public policy.

Sadly, these inventive new ways of using social media for political gain have mostly not reached New York City local elections, despite being the cultural capital of the country and home to countless. social media agencies and influencers (soon including Lemay, who is moving to New York City to open his own ice cream shop).

In my own analysis of the social media channels of New York City mayoral candidates, few, if any, use social media to effectively target young voters. Many share long, highly edited essays in Twitter discussion threads spanning multiple tweets, which ruins the appeal of Twitter’s short form and personalized style. On Instagram, the candidates mainly posted photos of their travels around the city, meeting and chatting with voters. They rarely tried to engage directly with voters via social media (commenting, directly answering questions, interacting in some other way), missing out on the potentially pivotal group of voters under 30.

Most mayoral candidates have never even attempted to create a TikTok account, despite the platform’s growing popularity on Facebook and Instagram and a global audience of over one billion users. We know it’s a viable way to help win an election because it happened before – On November 2, two 19-year-olds from Connecticut won their local elections using the power of social media.

Some local candidates shine above the rest in their social media performance. For example, Chi Ossé, elected member of Brooklyn City Council, has developed her online following through her leadership in the Black Lives Matter movement. The 23-year-old widened his audience by being authentic on Twitter and interactive with voters on Instagram, which helped his victory on Election Day. His team also consists of other underrepresented New Yorkers of the same age. I would love to see Ossé take on TikTok as well.

This is one of my suggestions for all New York politicians, who collectively can do a lot to improve their social media game:

First of all, use TikTok. Whether you love it or hate it, it’s what is now and after, so you better use it. With TikTok just surpassing YouTube in viewing hours per month, it’s an important medium in attracting a younger audience. Warm up with repurposed content from other platforms if you’re feeling skeptical. The more you use it, the more comfortable you’ll be with the platform’s unique and ever-changing trends. Be silly, embarrass yourself, let go, show yourself. TikTok is the place to be.

Then be authentic. Twitter and Instagram are not just advertising platforms. Be yourself. Write your own tweets. Everything does not have to be reviewed by a team of 10 people. If you have an idea, share it. Do you like a photo? Publish it on your IG story. This will help applicants appear more easily identified and in contact with ordinary people.

Then try to use multi-narrative storytelling. Introduce seemingly unrelated stories into the same content and have confidence that your audience will actually understand and appreciate the content.

Remember, interact! One-way communication on social media is boring. Social media was created so that people could have conversations with each other, and that’s what most people use it for. Respond to comments. Comment on other people’s content. Carefully, have a debate with someone in their DMs – I can promise they’ll remember it. **

Then be authentic. You don’t have to be so uptight and calculating. Voters are not stupid, they can tell. If you put the camera on and lose the makeup and any other showmanship you might have, you’ll look more authentic. Voters are always looking for more genuine candidates.

Finally, get more young people on your team. Who is better placed to attract young voters than other young voters? Many young New Yorkers are leading the fight against climate change, gun violence and more. You can work with young voices to guide your decisions in the world of social media. Many young people know what they are doing and you must be sure that many would like to help you in your campaign.

With another round of city-wide city council elections just around the corner in 2023, now is the time for anyone considering running for one of these seats to break new ground in their social media strategy and get started. to think about how they can inspire young people. Yorkers to support their candidacy and vote. In doing so, our elected officials will be more in contact with young voters and more attentive to their needs.

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Nikita Chernin is a sophomore at New Dorp High School and NYC Votes Youth Ambassador in Staten Island. The opinions expressed here are his. On Twitter @ N6chernin.

* While many campaigns use Facebook’s advertising tools to advertise to voters, the people they target tend to be from an older demographic. Facebook favors older generations more in its user base, so although politicians advertise it, it is not seen as much by young people.

** A word of warning. There are limits that people have. Be careful not to cross them, as crossing people’s personal boundaries usually leads to problems. Always use your brain and be careful when speaking to voters in private – and expect everything you say in private to become public at some point.

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